Microsoft executive Don Mattrick published a missive on the official Xbox site today that walks back many of the restrictions that the Xbox One was going to place on used game disc sales and offline play. “We’ve listened to your feedback and made changes” is the stated message. “Fine, you can unplug your goddamn internet and keep your precious GameStop trade-ins, you braying pack of Luddite ingrates” is the implicit message.
“We believe in the benefits of a connected, digital future,” Mattrick writes in his opening paragraph, reflecting wistfully on the utopia-in-the-cloud that Xbox One might have ushered in if it weren’t for those meddling kids. He continues, “Since unveiling our plans for Xbox One, my [visionary] team and I have heard directly from many of you [backward-thinking troglodytes], read your [cretinous] comments and listened to your feedback [at least when we could hear you over the sound of your butter churns and tinfoil hats].”
As a result of your feedback—feedback that Don Mattrick insists is just swell and doesn’t at all make him want to murder small animals every time he opens his Twitter feed—Xbox One players will enjoy the following luxuries:
You can play, share, lend, and resell your games exactly as you do today on Xbox 360. Here is what that means:
An internet connection will not be required to play offline Xbox One games – After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc based game without ever connecting online again. There is no 24 hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360.
Trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today – There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on Xbox 360.
This update will be welcome news to those who were dreading the byzantine digital-rights management that promised to accompany the Xbox One’s game-sharing system. But it does also torpedo the lion’s share of that game-sharing scheme, such that Mattrick couldn’t resist delivering a few parting digs through gritted teeth: “The sharing of games will work as it does today, you will simply share the disc [as if we are in some crappy 1960 sci-fi B-movie]. Downloaded titles cannot be shared or resold [because you don’t deserve that privilege]. Also, similar to today, playing disc based games will require that the disc be in the tray [partly out of practical considerations, partly out of spite].”
This is a short-term victory (if a mixed one), but the potential long-term success here is that players have forced the console makers to directly participate in a conversation about the nature of game ownership. In fairness to Microsoft, the company was attempting to advance that conversation on its own with the initial plans for the Xbox One. It’s just that many players were not ready for the answers that the Xbox team came up with.
In any case, though, the disc era is coming to an end, and we need to hash out the contracts—both legal and social—that will govern our game purchases in the future. Is the model of download services like Steam good enough for everyone? Or will players demand a simple method of sharing and trading digital games—and demand it loudly enough that Microsoft et al. can’t ignore it? The music and film industries are already trying to puzzle these issues out. What you’re seeing today is the result of the game console industry’s early, uncertain steps into that ethical muck.